On some ski vacation days, you wake up early and look out the window and find it raining at 9,000 feet. Today was one of those days and it reminded me of when one of my cameramen was staying at a deluxe ski resort during a week of rain and wasn’t able to get a single picture.
I had sent Brian Sisselman and three skiers to North Africa to film skiing in the Cedars of Lebanon. When he got there it was a rainstorm of epic proportions and he discovered that almost all of the trees had been chopped down centuries before to build wooden ships.
Brian’s accommodations were uncomfortable by most standards with a sagging metal bed with a thin mattress and a bathroom down the hall. His room was occasionally illuminated by a 30-watt lamp bulb that was turned off at 8:30 every night. He somehow managed to phone me after about a week of incessant rainstorms and said, “All it seems to do here is rain. How can I get good pictures of the guys we flew over here to ski for us if it’s always raining?”
One of the things I learned early in my film career was to treat a lot of the stuff we filmed as though it was a news item that no one had seen or heard of until we brought it to their auditorium. So I told Brian, “Take the following ideas when you are filming and I will write my narration around them.
“You traveled all the way to the Cedars of Lebanon in North Africa thinking you were going to film skiing in wonderful powder snow and sunshine. It took you three different airlines, a long bus ride and then a $53 taxi ride to get to the resort. Alongside the road leading to the chairlift you saw a dozen or so men sitting in the rain, each with 10 or 15 pairs of skis and boots for rent. The prices ranged from $1 to $2 a day, depending on the age of the skis and boots. Most of the equipment was as old as you are and some of the skis had at least half of their edges missing with all of them having old-fashioned bear trap, cable bindings. Film it all. That’s the story.”
The chairlift was built on a good hill that was covered with about two feet of snow that had been rained on for the last three days. Brian brought the skiers half-way around the world to ski in a rainstorm of about an inch of rain a day.
Note: All of this became the narration over the appropriate scenes.
It continues in the finished film, “Instead of traveling to North Africa to ski on a hill like this in a raging rainstorm we could have flown to Seattle and driven 45 miles up to Snoqualmie Pass and skied with 10,000 other people dressed in foul weather gear. Their foul weather gear is exactly the same as the crab fisherman on the TV hit series The Deadliest Catch and at the end of the day the skiers are just as wet and tired.”
This kind of skiing looks funny to the people who have never weathered the storms of the northwest, but it is the only way you can get through a day of skiing without freezing in a Pacific Northwest or North African rainstorm.
The phone call with Brian Sisselman cost me about the same as an all-day lift ticket at Snoqualmie Pass because there was no cell service available.
To finally ski one day in the rainstorm in Lebanon cost four roundtrip tickets on three different airlines and one charter plane, plus all the rest of the expenses, or about $6,300. By the time the crew got back to Hermosa Beach and we got to see the footage, I had already written the script in my mind.
It was ugly when you saw the good skiers waterskiing in the wet rain over the top of the slush. But it was how it was … and that is what a story is all about.
I think it was worth it because you never know what the skiing will be like until you travel thousands of miles to somewhere else to do the same things you can do on your own local ski hill. You can turn right, left, or go straight.
As I sit here reminiscing about the good old days, some of them were not so good but the audiences liked what they saw. That does not mean they will ever go to Lebanon to ski any more than I will. But Brian learned a good lesson on that one: Because it’s different – that is what the story is all about.
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